Victims of Domestic Abuse in West Dorset, ‘Reclaim the Night’

Victims of Domestic Abuse in West Dorset, ‘Reclaim the Night’

Tracey West, has been an active, noisy patron of WAND, the Women’s Action Network Dorset, since 2011 and is frequently a media spokesperson on the plight of those affected by domestic abuse. In 2014, she chaired the multi-agency No Excuse for Abuse Conference, jointly funded and co–hosted by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in Dorset, and WAND.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there were 9,362 reported cases of domestic abuse in 2015 in Dorset, meaning 1.32% of the population (710,500) reported a domestic abuse crime in that single year.

Nationally, data from the year ending March 2015, showed that women were more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than other demographic groups and 12.6% of women aged 16 to 19 were victims in the last year. In comparison, 6.1% of all adults were victims of domestic abuse for the same time period.

Tracey explains, “Domestic abuse can happen to absolutely anyone and some of the stories I’ve heard from women survivors in our county alone, would chill you to the core. I read a report in 2014 stating that Dorset police dealt with a case of domestic abuse every hour of the day. Officers received around 700 reports of it each month across the county and dealt with more than 36,000 incidents of it between 2010/14”.

There are a handful of organisations working incredibly hard throughout Dorset to help victims of domestic abuse, including WAND, who are perhaps best described as a public awareness raising platform for various women’s issues and also a fundraising arm that regularly supports the West Dorset Women’s Refuge.

On Saturday 26th November from 7-10.30pm, WAND are hosting their annual Reclaim the Night Event at Dorchester Town Hall. Tickets are £3.00 on the door and all are welcome.

Sue Bickle, WAND’s secretary explains, “The evening starts with a percussion workshop, followed by a short walk and drum through the centre of Dorchester for those who want to take part. On our return, we have a lovely light supper, then Tracey runs our auction. This year, we’re raising funds for the children at the Refuge and also Dorset SARC, the Sexual Assault Referral Centre.”

WAND are still looking for donations to the auction, ie overnight stays at local hotels, lunch for 2 at local restaurants, beauty treatments, hampers, theatre tickets, pottery, art, children’s gifts etc. Contact Sue Bickle on WandDorset@gmail.com if you can help and see WANDWomen.org for more details.

Tracey explains, “Our Refuge offers safe and secure accommodation for up to nine women and their children at any one time and can accommodate those with disabilities. It offers practical advice and support on a wide range of subjects like finance, benefits, housing and legal issues with a female solicitor who holds a weekly surgery there. It also has access to the Freedom Programme, a 12 week course designed to empower women to recognise abusive traits.

It is an amazing place that relies on financial donations to run their vital service. Any items or funds you can give will be gratefully received and will make a real difference.”

Recent research from Women’s Aid, has shown:

  • two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales
  • domestic abuse related crime is 8% of total crime
  • the police receive an emergency call relating to domestic abuse every 30 seconds
  • domestic cases now account for 14.1% of all court prosecutions

The amount of prosecutions rose last year to the highest level ever of 92,779 and 84% of the victims were female.

On December 29th 2015, a new criminal offence of domestic abuse ‘Coercive and Controlling Behaviour’ came into force. 95 out of 100 domestic abuse survivors in one study reported experiencing coercive control and three quarters of the 34 police forces now include coercive control as part of their domestic abuse training, including Dorset Police. Prosecution can bring the perpetrators to justice and result in a maximum of up to 5 years imprisonment, a fine, or both.

It’s not just physical and psychological abuse that causes problems. The 2014/2015 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 63% of female abuse victims had experienced emotional or financial abuse in the last year too. The cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.

Perpetrators of domestic abuse commonly use controlling behaviour to keep them seemingly in charge. This encompasses a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. Additionally, coercive behaviour is a large problem too and is described as an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

Tracey continues, “Domestic abuse is still very much a hidden crime, commonly occurring behind closed doors which makes it difficult to report upon accurately. In my view, even with the most up to date statistics, it’s almost impossible to capture the context and depth of the abuse, or the mental and physical impact it has on those who suffer it. The prospect of speaking to the police can be incredibly daunting and if victims do end up having face to face interviews, the details can be too distressing to disclose fully. I think this is partly due to the self-imposed shame and embarrassment of people thinking, “Why on earth did you stay with them?” and the reasons for doing so are far more complex than anyone who hasn’t experienced it, could understand.”

She concludes, “If you are a victim of domestic abuse and trying to muster up the courage to talk to the police, I recommend you get to a place of safety and write a background document that covers typical examples of what’s going on. It can be easier to write than to say the words sometimes, particularly when your mind can have a tendency to go blank when you are made to focus on what’s actually going on. It is so important that victims do not suffer in silence. Domestic abuse is abhorrent and needs to be eradicated for ever, so please be brave and report cases to the Dorset police. They have specially trained officers and along with the following services, they will be able to support you.”

Are you suffering domestic abuse in Dorset?

Outreach workers are available 24 hours a day and can support you on the phone, or in person.  They also run drop-ins across Dorset where you can meet other people in similar situations and receive ongoing support. For help contact: Dorset County You First on 0800 0325204, Bournemouth Outreach 01202 547641, Poole Outreach 01202 710777. Or contact your nearest refuge: West Dorset 01305 262444, Bournemouth 01202 547755, North Dorset 01747 858555 and Poole (can also take men) 01202 748488.